Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000301, Tue, 19 Jul 1994 15:04:01 -0700

Re: VN and Wilson (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is Galya Diment's response to my recent note about
MEyer's AMERICAN SCHOLAR article on Wilson and Nabokokv.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L%UCSBVM.BITNET@cmsa.Berkeley.EDU>
Subject: Re: VN and Wilson

There are a couple of things that fascinate me in VN-EW relationship. I
find it ironic that they were first drawn to each other because they
considered each other the best representatives of the "other" culture
they admired. At the end, I suspect it was also the different cultures --
different sensibilities, different senses of humor, different
expectations of what friends do and do not do -- that drew them apart.

One of the most interesting manifestations of that lies in another ironic
fact that they both considered the other "amoral" but for different
reasons. Wilson thought that N. "distaste" for the social engagement in
art, for example, was "amoral." N. viewed some of W.'s personal actions as
"amoral." Richard Rorty makes several astute observations on VN-EW
relationship in "The Barber of Kasbeam: Nabokov on Cruelty" (in
Contingency, Irony & Solidarity, Cambridge, 1989) but the best one is
when he likens Nabokov (at least in Wilson's mind) to Dickens' Skimpole
"the charming aesthete in Bleak House... [who] claims the privileges of
the child and of the poet.... He views everyone else's life as poetry, no
matter how much they suffer.... By claiming not to grasp concepts
like 'money'' and 'responsibility,' Skimpole tries to exonerate himself from
living off the charity and the suffering of others." In a footnote, Rorty
remarks: "This was sometimes Edmund Wilson's view of what his
friend Nabokov was doing. Wilson occasionally cast himself in the part of
John Jarndyce, the patient and generous patron, opposite Nabokov as the
charmingly amoral Skimpole."

Wilson served plenty as a somewhat "patient and generous patron" to
Fitzgerald as well but I suspect F.'s responses to W.'s friendship, and
his own rather constant and very public suffering made it somehow more
satisfying. They also, in an intellectual sense, at least, "grew up"
together -- something that N. and W. obviously did not do.

Your point about "betrayals" is, I think well taken. I do not think they
realized how different they were not only personally but also culturally.
There were high expectations on both sides of loyalty and generous
affection. When loyalty and affection started wearing thin, there must have
been a huge sense of "betrayal" in both men.

Galya Diment, University of Washington